DIVA TALK: From Drag to Rags

News   DIVA TALK: From Drag to Rags ANNE RUNOLFSSON

ANNE RUNOLFSSON

On March 15 and 16 Anne Runolfsson will star in two benefit performances of Rags in Concert, presented by The Storefront at Metro Baptist Church, 410 West 40th Street. The former star of Cyrano and Victor/Victoria will portray Rebecca, the role originated on Broadway by Theresa Stratas, and Leslie Kritzer, who starred in the Papermill Playhouse production of Funny Girl, will play Bella, the role created on Broadway by Judy Kuhn. Storefront artistic director Phil Geoffrey Bond will direct the concert, which features the glorious score by Charles Strouse (music) and Stephen Schwartz (lyrics) and a book by Joe Stein.

I recently had the chance to chat with the multitalented Runolfsson, who possesses one of the more beautiful voices around. If you’ve never heard her glorious tones, pick up a copy of her solo CD, At Sea, or the recently released Jamie deRoy & Friends holiday disc, which features Runolfsson’s moving rendition of Joni Mitchell’s River.

Q You haven't been all that visible in the NY scene the past year or two. Has that been a conscious choice or has there just not been too much work here?
Runolfsson: The past few years for me have been consumed largely with becoming a mother. I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Tess, who is an incredible spirit. I was taken aback by how much I have enjoyed being a mother. I thought I would want to go back to work immediately, but that wasn't really the case. I have completely enjoyed the time I have spent with Tess and my husband [producer Tony Adams]. All has not been quiet though. I’ve sung with many symphonies and Philharmonic Orchestras in the past couple of years. This has been ideal work, as it only requires me to work partial weeks, and not every week. Tess is a frequent flyer on five airlines! She has been all over the world. I have also written a children's book called A Cup of Nurse. The book is scheduled to be published spring of 2004. Recently, I was standing in my kitchen and I thought, ‘I'm ready to go back to work.’ So when Rags came up, I felt it was a good way to get my feet back in the water.

Q: I really love your solo recording and listen to it a lot. I particularly love the song "At Sea," which you wrote about your late dad. Do you have any plans for another solo recording?
Runolfsson: Thank you for the compliment. I am incredibly proud of "At Sea," both the song and the album. I am working on a new CD with my collaborator and arranger, Larry Yurman. It will focus on the music of Richard Rogers and Jerome Kern. The target release is this fall. I'll certainly let you know. Q: Tell me a bit about how you became involved in the upcoming production of Rags and about the character you'll be playing.
Runolfsson: Philip [Geoffrey Bond] e-mailed me to see if I was interested in playing the part of Rebecca. I was intrigued, but had just committed to a concert at Town Hall, Broadway by the Year 1933, which is scheduled for the same weekend. I initially felt that it might be more then I could handle as I would be in L.A. the week before singing in a Johnny Mercer concert for S.T.AG.E. L.A., and I have seven different engagements all over the U.S. in April. But, after I read the script and listened to the score, I couldn't say no. I had not seen the original production. I also felt that the character of Rebecca was a woman I wanted to know better. She is daring, curious, passionate, loyal, open. She embodies many qualities I admire.

Q: What do you think of the score?
Runolfsson: The score -- OH MY GOD! The melody line of ‘Children of the Wind’ is so gloriously beautiful and inspired. I have yet to sing it without crying. The combination of the lyric and the melody is profound. This is my personal favorite score of Charles'. I can only imagine how disappointing it was for all the people involved when the original production closed so abruptly. It is a show with incredible heart.

Q: What was your experience like standing by for Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria? The show certainly got a lot of attention, and I was wondering how you look back on your time in the show.
Runolfsson: Well . . . what can I say other than Victor/Victoria changed my life. I met my husband on that show. And as for Julie, I made a friend for life. She is the woman you would imagine, with a killer sense of humor. I am eternally grateful for that experience.

Q: One final question: When people hear the name Anne Runolfsson, what would you want them to think?
Runolfsson: Daring, curious, passionate, loyal, open. (I hear an echo.)

Tickets to Rags in Concert, which are priced at $30, may be purchased via Smarttix at www.smarttix.com, or by calling ( 212) 206-1515.

BEA ARTHUR ON BROADWAY

Ever since Bea Arthur announced well over a year ago that she would be touring in a one-woman show I had hoped that the statuesque diva would bring her show to Broadway. And, last week I finally had the chance to see the legendary TV and stage star live onstage at the Booth Theatre in Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends. I know that some have felt that Arthur’s 90-minute performance doesn’t dig deep enough into her past or her soul, and perhaps that is true, but all I know is I had a terrific time. Any show that can make me smile and laugh for 90 minutes is fine with me. Sure, I would have liked to have heard more gossipy tales about her work on Maude and The Golden Girls, and more backstage banter about her roles on Broadway would have been welcomed, but bearing her soul is, one suspects, not Arthur’s game. She prefers to lift the spirits with bawdy jokes, classic songs and lighter, favorite stories. One does wish that she had done this program a decade earlier when her singing voice was probably in better shape, but she does manage to deliver a powerful rendition of Kurt Weill’s “Pirate Jenny” as well as moving takes on “It Never Was You” and Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s (who co-wrote the theme to “Maude” with Dave Gruisin) “Where Do You Start?” If you’re a Bea Arthur fan, don’t miss your chance to see this award-winning actress “life-sized and out of the box.”

MAUREEN McGOVERN

This summer, Maureen McGovern will star in a production of Jerry Herman’s Dear World at the Sundance Theater in Sundance, Utah. The musical, which starred Angela Lansbury on Broadway, will open on June 29 and run through August 17. The former star of Broadway’s Nine and Threepenny Opera will also perform in concert throughout the country. Below is an updated list of McGovern’s schedule.

Feb. 22 - 24: at the San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
Feb. 28: Muscular Dystrophy Association benefit at the Hyatt Regency, San Diego, CA
March 21-22: at Scullers Jazz Club Boston, MA
March 23: Wall to Wall Richard Rodgers at Symphony Space, New York
March 24: Airmen of Note Guest Artist Series - DAR Constitution Hall, Washington, DC
April 30-May 6 & May 8-May 13: Cinegrill Grand Re-Opening, Los Angeles, CA
May 17-18: "Works of Heart" Seminar - New York, NY
June 22: "Music by the Lake," Lake Geneva, WI
June 29-Aug. 17: Dear World at Sundance Theater, Sundance, UT
July 4: at the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts at the Venetian Theater, Katonah, NY
Sept. 1-2: MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon, Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 20 - 22: Grand Rapids Symphony at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, MI
Sept 26-29: North Carolina Symphony, Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, NC
Oct. 30-Nov. 3: American Music Therapy Association Conference in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 19-Dec. 1: at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6: at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8: at Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9: Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit, Carnegie Hall in New York City
Dec. 12 - 14: at Orange County Performing Arts Center Founders Hall in Costa Mesa, CA

IN OTHER NEWS I was unable to attend Betty Buckley’s recent concerts at the Bottom Line, but several Buckley fans e-mailed me about the Tony winner’s exciting concerts, which featured a new seven-piece band. Buckley debuted a slew of new material, and now the former Norma D is in rehearsal for The Studio Arena Theatre’s production of A.R. Gurney’s Buffalo Gal, which will play March 17 through April 21 at the Buffalo theatre. Let’s hope the production will makes its way to N.Y.C. after! . . .The Dark Night Series is a new series that brings to the stage new musical theatre presentations by celebrated composers. First up is An Intimate Evening with Frank Wildhorn and Friends, which will feature the talents of Linda Eder, Christiane Noll, Douglas Sills, Rob Evan and Michael Lanning. The Wildhorn evenings will be held on Feb. 25 and March 4 at Upstairs at 54, 254 West 54th Street. The composer of Jekyll & Hyde and Scarlet Pimpernel will play songs at the piano and will relay stories about his various works. Tickets are available through Smarttix.com or by phone at (212) 206-1515 . . . Cabaret chanteuse Lisa Viggiano will team up with Bill McKinley on March 13 to perform an evening of song at The Gardenia Restaurant and Lounge (7066 Santa Monica Boulevard). The two singers will be accompanied by Christopher Marlowe, and reservations for the evening, which begins at 8 PM, may be made by calling (323) 467-7444 . . . . On Tuesday, the double-CD recording of Dreamgirls -- The 20th Anniversary Concert will be released on the Nonesuch Records label. The recording captures the thrilling, live performance held this past September at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, which starred, among others, Lillias White, Heather Headley, Audra McDonald, Darius de Haas, Billy Porter and Norm Lewis. You can pre-order the CD now by going to www.actorsfund.org. REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

March 15 & 16, 2002: with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, NC
March 30: at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA

Maureen McGovern in Concert:
March 6-11 and 13-18: at the Cinegrill Grand reopening in Hollywood, CA
March 24: as part of the Guest Artist Series with the U.S. Air Force Band at Constitutional Hall in Washington, D.C

Bernadette Peters in Concert:

April 5-6: at the Orange County Perf. Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
April 13: at the Providence Perf. Arts Center in Providence, RI
April 20: at Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis, MO
April 26: at the Hilbert Circle in Indianapolis, IN
May 18: at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, PA
Aug. 30-Sept. 1: at the Morton H. Meyerson Hall in Dallas, TX

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!

—By Andrew Gans